Imagining Malcolm Margolin: California's Co-Creator and Cartographer of a Better Reality

Last week found Mr. Bib lamenting, complaining, bitching and otherwise cracking wise by way of that rhetorically nearly exhausted (and exhausting) question of Where to Start, as in how to locate some kind of place - ideally at least higher than Lowest Common DenominatorLand, but sort of wishing for at least that - and backing up lightly to basics, of civic engagement, history, critical thinking and science. In this morning's hebdomadal rant I pivot on that one, offering exactly (!) Where to Start, no head shaking or eye rolling, only pointing to those specific places just now of both pleasing difficult reality and imagination, to steal some poetry, happily, from this week's hero, the editor and publisher and all-around booster of the heartfelt, Heyday founder Malcolm Margolin, who the Bibliofella and family were lucky to see and hear last week with an adoring crowd at the terrific ALOUD reading series at LA Central Library, thank you Louise Steinman, curator and host of that most excellent program. 

No, if he didn't already exist, you'd have to maybe make this fellow up. Which is sort of the autobiographical conceit of the life of Malcolm Margolin, and his story, too, subject and co-author of this week's highly recommended book, with co-author Kim Bancroft, a volume you need on your "California" shelf, where it might easily find a spot next to other Heyday publications, you literary hipster you. The book is The Heyday of Malcolm Margolin: The Damn Good Times of a Fiercely Independent Publisher. As it should be, this particular memoir-meets-history with some justifiable bravado to its title is published by Heyday itself, allowing for the kind of editorial DIY autonomy and the creative collectivist politics for which the place has become famous. The integrity of the telling might be suspect were the book not in fact a reflection of the ethos and humane ethics of its subject, and bearing the big "H" and three-acorn logo of the long-running book publishing house which made its reputation by running way, way ahead of so many other conventional houses, and publishing the essential magazine News from Native California.

Stop me if I am telling you something, everything you already know. But of course there's a whole lot more for almost anybody to learn in this innovative, fun, entertaining re-assembled oral history featuring the "best of" a raconteur with a very good memory and some (but not too much!) self-deprecating humility and a lot of good things to say about a lot of good people, including those he met on his journey, starting with researching and writing the now essential California and anthopology book The Ohlone Way, then having a look around the Bay Area to discover all sorts of natural history, people history, cultural history, poets and writers and First Nations (Indian, Native American, indigenous) people and publishing that essential magazine of Native life. See the Heyday catalog for more, including his work with Vincent Medina, Ohlone language-reviver and archivist who works with Heyday and Malcolm and hosts a terrific blog, Being Ohlone in the 21st Century 

It's (all of it) the unlikely story of a self-described successful hippie from a working class Jewish Boston home who built around him a network, already there and, it seems also waiting to be found, discovered, solidarity-ed into existence out of that imagined realm of curiosity that is found only slightly below the surface of the so-called Golden State. Indeed, to quote him not quite exactly from the other night, Malcolm reminded his audience that California was itself imagined into existence, state lines drawn by a bunch of drunks, so that imagining and the imagination is just about the perfect, if not necessary and required way in
 to the illusory confines which hold so much beauty, wonder, myth and other elemental tropes physical and folksy so often disregarded by the quotidian, the pavement, the real estate culture and often sadistic politics of mineral exploitation, massacre, disappearing language (now lately revived by Medina) and a particular variety of capitalism which so often resembles the grade school bully.  Heyday recently published a terrific anthology of the dream and real-life stories of our neighbors over in the "909" (what a dumb phrase) in the form of Inlandia: A Literary Journey through California's Inland Empire  and Malcolm's biographer, Kim Bancroft is herself the author, editor of an amazing book, Literary Industries: Chasing a Vanishing West, a judiciously and elegantly abridged version of her own great-great-grandpop's 1890 monster-tome about the life of another legendary publisher and booster of Cali.


Imagining Malcolm Margolin: California's Co-Creator and Cartographer of a Better Reality


Speaking of bullies, can it be that we've lived only seven short (long, dreary, frustrating, amusing) years since troglodyte and then-South Orange County Community School District board member Don Wagner - now, of all things a Republican member of the California Assembly! - objected to Saddleback College's library membership (and presumably that of Irvine Valley College) in, yes, the American Library Association?  Yes it can. Good times in South OC, which nobody calls, derisively, the "949" but maybe should. For highlights (low-lights) of his speech including, yup, you guessed it, "I've done a little research...liberal busybodies...leftist activism...not supportive of the values of our constituents..." see the You Tube video memorializing this precious moment of bad Wagnerian opera but be heartened  


and filled with at least a little schadenfreude to learn that an instructor and other supporters of Banned Books Week, a project of the ALA's own terrifically named Office of Intellectual Freedom will read from banned or challenged books on the IVC campus this week.  You will want to stop by and read a dirty book with them. Mr. Bib will be there, you bet. Wednesday, September 24, 3-4 PM in front of (where else?) the IVC Library. 

Free, but reservations seriously required.
Free, but reservations seriously required.

Finally, I don't have CAPS big enough or bold dark and fat enough or font crazy enough to recommend enthusiastically enough the outdoor theater extravaganza of public performance which the Bibster, Ms. Bib and the Little Bib-dude saw last night at the downtown Civic Plaza. A project of South Coast Rep, "The Long Road Today"/"El Largo Camino de Hoy" is a site-specific multi-media extreme theater-in-the-roundabout, a community-authored play actually written down and realized by an esteemed playwright, with drama, live music, puppets, dance, costumes, projections, puppets (really, really great puppets), folkloric tropes and political themes, a kind of participatory democracy theater of the night.  Inventive and clever but committed to an analysis, it's a little bit Brecht, Living Theater, San Francisco Mime Troupe, with a whole lot of El Teatro Campesino (just to start).  The story develops in its four-scene, four-site interconnected story out of the death of a child, accidental, by a young driver in the Santa Ana neighborhood. Impossible to reconcile all the pain, resentment, complications, so that we are asked to engage, as another tuned-in dude, the most ambitious kind of emotional-political response:  empathy, and a trip to the wildly uncharted territory of imagination. 

All of the above has cheered me right up. You?  Biblio-friends, i's going to be a great week!

Kim Bancroft, The Heyday of Malcolm Margolin, Heyday Books, 384 pgs., $20.00

Gayle Wattawa, editor, Inlandia: A Literary Journey through California's Inland Empire, Heyday, 433 pgs, $18.95

Kim Bancroft,  Literary Industries: Chasing a Vanishing West, Heyday Books, 240 pgs., $18.00

"American Indian Airwaves," the only weekly radio show in So Cal about First Nations politics and culture, airs Tuesday nights 8-9 pm on (where else?) KPFK 90.7 FM, with hosts Marcus Lopez, Corey Dubin and Larry Smith.

Dialogos/Dialogues:

Malcolm and famous poet pals Gary and Al
Malcolm and famous poet pals Gary and Al

Andrew Tonkovich edits the West Coast literary journal Santa Monica Review and returns in spring 2015 to hosting the weekly books show Bibliocracy Radio on KPFK 90. FM in Southern California.




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